Chinese Super Ninjas | Varied Celluloid

Chinese Super Ninjas

Posted by JoshSamford On July - 17 - 2008
Plot Outline: After a martial arts school ruled by a bitter and evil man seeks power by confronting one of the best schools in China, the bad school ends up losing heavily. That is, until the final contestant for the evil school comes out to take the place of his fallen comrades, a Japanese samurai enters the ring and kills one of the less skilled martial artists from the good team. This leads to anger, and Shi Shang (Lo Meng) steps to the plate and beats the dog mess out of the samurai. Being that loss of a fight means loss of a life for a samurai, he intends to commit suicide. Before he does though, he warns the leader of the good school that in the coming days a Ninja will come to China and will then take revenge. After saying his farewells, the Samurai tosses a poisoned blade into the palm of the master’s hand, which then causes him not to be able to perform Kung Fu for a few weeks. After a while though, the school is given a competition letter from “The Five Elements”, and five separate destinations where the best students are supposed to meet. Everyone figures it’s a trap, but they go on ahead… and they all die. This leaves only the very best students left at the school, and the Ninjas have planted a spy in the clan and plan to kill everyone inside. All I have to say is that revenge will be served.


  

The Review
Well, it’s December 2003. It’s chilly outside, Christmas is right upon us and I’m feeling the holiday spirit. So with that in mind, I could think of no better way to commemorate my favorite holiday than to throw a marathon of cinematic treats from my personal favorite cinematic style. The Kung Fu genre boys and girls. I’m going through seven randomly chosen Hong Kong classics, all coming straight out of the old school, and hopefully you the reader will join in on the festivities as well. Chinese Super Ninjas is the first film on the list today, and if there’s a better way to start the Kung Fu loving, I’m not aware of it. Chinese Super Ninjas (from now on to be referred to as ‘Ninjas’) has the privilege of being labeled as perhaps director Chang Cheh’s most violent film ever. Now, I’ve only heard the term thrown around by a good number of people and I would never go about calling it that myself in any authoritative manner, because as of now even though I’ve seen a few of Cheh’s films, I haven’t even went through one-fourth of his filmic library. Whether Ninjas is the goriest of all his work or not is debatable, but if it isn’t, it’s certainly bound to be ‘one’ of his most violent films that’s for sure. It’s not exactly Ricky Oh, but for an old school classic, this is ultra violent. Blood packets abound, and even a few dismemberment’s to boot. I don’t think I have personally ever witnessed a film as violent from Cheh, and being the wanna-be gorehound that I am, I gobble up the violence like a wolf among lambs. Not only is the violence entertaining though, the film works like a smorgasbord of over the top entertainment. The storyline it’s self is pretty ridiculous, even by Shaw Brother standards, but it’s the way in which all these things are conceived that really makes the film a glorious thing to be given the chance to watch. The sets are cheap, the costumes are cheap but the amazing talent by the stars and Chang Cheh behind the camera makes the film riveting to say the least. It may have a few bumps in the road, but Ninjas is most definitely yet another high point in Chang Cheh’s long and bountiful career. Among many circles it is hailed as his finest achievement, and although I don’t have that equal a passion for the film, I can certainly see where those people are coming from. I have a hard time picturing anyone watching the film and not having fun, so the question in my eyes isn’t so much ‘will it be good?’ as it is ‘how good will it be?’. Me personally, I think it’s an amazing achievement by all involved. It’s a fast paced, action packed story told in a brilliant way, but as much as it pains me to admit, it’s not my favorite Chang Cheh film ever. It’s as great as much of his work, but it doesn’t excel past being just a ‘great’ film into excellence, or genre-bending. For a Kung Fu film, it’s brilliance pure and simple, but for a Chang Cheh Kung Fu film, it’s just highly entertaining. Regardless of whether you the viewer find it to be an all time classic or just a highly enjoyable film, there’s no getting past the fact that Chang Cheh certainly hit gold once again.

Like any Chinese film focused on the Japanese, the film has just a wee bit of a bias towards the other culture. The atrocities by the Japanese during World War II were only a few decades old at this point and most certainly not forgiven by the film’s target demographic, so what are you going to do. Even though in the light of politically correct mind control, er, I mean tolerance levels, the film may come off a slight bit harsh towards the Japanese, but it’s hardly all that bad. I found The Chinese Connection (my second favorite Bruce Lee film) to be harsher in their presentation of the Japanese, something that Bruce Lee himself didn’t like about making that film. No, I wouldn’t say Ninjas is really a denouncement of the Japanese or anything to that effect, maybe just a strange look at one culture through the directors lens of another. The film begins with voice over telling us “The very costumes and weapons in this film are based on Japanese ancient catalogues and collections”, but I can’t really tell if they seriously mean this for all of the costumes or not. If the five element ninjas are seriously supposed to be direct reflections on Japanese history, then we’re crossing over into the land of ridiculous make believe. To think that any self respecting ninja would dress himself up in a shiny golden jump suit and flash around a shiny hat. I find that hard to believe, but I have my doubts as to whether the opening voice over was added by the distributor or not. Basically, if that voice over doesn’t establish from the very beginning that the movie isn’t going to be the most serious film ever, then you had best check your critical thought at the door because this film is going to be having none of it. The film almost demands to have audience participation, I mean you have to get into the film to truly have fun with it. With the exception of Crippled Avengers, Chinese Super Ninjas is the one Chang Cheh film where, even when I’m alone, I tend to find myself commenting on the film as I watch it. Sometimes riffing on it like Mystery Science Theater 3000, sometimes just commenting on how absurd and humorous the film is, I find myself needing to comment on it in some form of another regardless. It’s a pure popcorn film, even by Kung Fu standards, the violence may deter some from eating but I swear to you that other than a lot of blood packets being splattered, there’s truly nothing to be frightened of. Actually, I believe the version I have seen and the one most readily available to most people is an edited copy. In the uncensored version I think we actually get some nudity as well as more blood, and for all I know the final death sequence has been eliminated as well. I’m not going to let that be too much of a distraction for me though, if it’s edited then it is, I’m not aware of a fully uncut copy out there but if I happen upon it I’ll certainly get it as soon as possible. For the moment, I’m perfectly happy with the version I know and love. It’s violent already, and it’s perfectly built from the bottom brick up, whether this is your type of architecture or not is going to be a personal decision. For me and the many others out there, Chinese Super Ninjas may not be the most technically proficient work of Chang Cheh, but man is it ever fun to watch.

Chang Cheh is as steady as ever in his development of the story. The plot is a little bit stranger here than some of his other films I’ve seen, but he guides us through enough ‘story’ to get us into the action scenes without seeming like a complete lack of creative thought towards storytelling. In fact, the addition of our hero not actually having anything to really fight for (and of course learn a new martial art) until the second half of the film is already somewhat riskier than what the majority of his peers were doing at the same exact time. Cheh doesn’t go out of his way in building up the characters in the film as it would likely take away from the pacing and impact, but we get enough of our character’s sense of honor, loyalty, etc. to know just what they are about. Shao Tien-Hao, who as well as having a fairly cool sounding name, is a pretty interesting protagonist. Played by Cheng Tien-chi, who never really worked a whole lot, the character is about as bizarre of an anti-hero as you’re going to find. He’s essentially a jerk throughout the majority of the film, but after his training in the ninja arts, he’s an even bigger jerk! Labeling him a ‘jerk’ might be a bit harsh come to think of it, but he is without remorse even when he does wrong in the latter half of the film. For those who have seen it, you know what I’m talking about, but then again the moral complexity (I’m serious here) of the separate characters in the film kind of makes defining any character’s actions as logical or even ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Okay, I think I have gotten a wee bit too pretentious for this type of review so I should move on. The film also stars my personal favorite of the Venoms Clan, Lo Meng. You may remember him as The Toad from Five Venoms, or the Deaf-Mute Man from Crippled Avengers, Lo Meng seems like one of the most over-looked Kung Fu actors out there. Sure he has his own select audience, but modern cinema goers may never know his brilliance. He was just the right parts of giant hulking pound of muscle, and nimble and flexible martial artist. There was nothing this man couldn’t do, and as far as being intimidating, no member of the Clan or any other actor I can think of can match him. He had this aura of being cool, but could also slam your face into the ground before you could get to the fourth letter in the alphabet. Putting it in simple terms, the man was bad, bad to the bone. The majority of the cast are people whom I do not recognize right off the bat. Probably just people Chang Cheh & Co. were friends with and such, no real stars that I could point out. This film was made in the early eighties when the whole industry was almost on it’s last legs. Right before Jackie Chan re-invented what could be done in a modern Kung Fu film, and certainly well before John Woo changed the face of action. It would prove to be Chang Cheh’s last world renowned classic within the genre, and I can think of no better way to remember him by. It’s not my favorite film from him, I’ll readily admit it, but I do fawn at the mouth over it and I do love it on equal ground with many other films I consider easy classics. It’s a light hearted, fun to watch, bloody Kung Fu movie and for the time it was made, it conquered all.

The Conclusion
So, why the four rating you ask? Surely I have reasons other than it’s not 100% a classic? Well, yeah. There’s a lot of rather bumpy editing in the film to be noted. This could be because the film was edited on my version, I’m not sure, but there are at least a couple of empty subplots that never seem to go anywhere even though they seemed like they were going to be built upon. I can’t go into detail without bringing up spoilers, but the film left a lot of things unanswered, and the series of technical errors in the film don’t help with an image of the film in my mind. Hey, I’m no hard case, I realize it comes with the territory, but during some of the water sequences in the film you can actually tell that the video was just ran backwards to achieve the desired effect. Still, for all the dozens of tiny nuances in the film, there are two dozen that make it worth watching. For one, what really made this last watch so special, the amazing and fun score for the film. It’s not ‘plain’ like a lot of old school films you sometimes see, and I swear to you the several theme songs within the film are some of the catchiest you’re going to find in a Kung Fu film. Anyway, I don’t want to drag this out longer than necessary, all I can say is that if you’re looking for a light and adventurous Kung Fu film with a nice deal of blood and silliness, Chinese Super Ninjas is impossible to beat. A definite classic, even when it has it’s faults it’s still more fun than 90% of the garbage I watch.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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